At 5 p.m., today, Key West is on hurricane warning status. Bars and nightclubs closed; on-site dining stopped; beaches and parks closed, closing early or limited to groups of less than 10. Events canceled. Venues closed. No cruise ships for a month. No Duval Loop. No toilet paper or paper towels. Fresh fruits and vegetables limited. And, no positive COVID-19 test results — although that’s not indicative of much except that we have no tests at the moment.
The waiting is all but done. At noon today, Key West closed us down. A better and more accurate way to put it might be: Key West shut down everything that matters most to our visitors — and left open the things that will support our local residents and workforce. The city didn’t tell our visitors to go home, though that could be coming. One can drive down the Overseas Highway or fly into the Key West airport; there’s no one with guns and barricades to stop the clueless from coming. I suspect the thought in Key West is those clueless will leave when they realize there’s no place to eat, drink and entertain themselves.
I hope so, though humans can be surprisingly dense about stuff like this. I’ve said and written publicly that I think it’s time to send our non-local visitors home county-wide. It is time to order the mandatory evacuation of non-Keys residents. It is time to turn available resources and efforts to supporting and protecting our residents. We are a tiny island whose resources and infrastructure can likely support ourselves; we cannot allow that fragile system to be overwhelmed by non-residents who decided playing in Key West was more fun than staying at home.
Non-Keys-locals, at least in my loose definition, are those who make a reservation to spend the night here. (It probably includes your house guests, but I’ll leave that up to you.) It definitely includes those monster tour buses. So, if you’re a snowbird who owns a home here and you want to self-isolate here, by all means, stay on. But, if you’re renting a vacation rental home whether it’s for a day or a season, staying at a hotel or sleeping in your car, you need to go home. We just don’t have the supplies and resources to sustain our community and take care of you at the same time.
We can turn our time, attention, money and resources to figuring out how we can take care of locals — medically and financially. These closings are crucial to the long-term health and success of our island — but the short-term financial impact likely will be devastating. When one is a $400 bill away from financial disaster, unemployment and no tips is frightening. Everyone on this island knows at least one person for whom that is a reality. We have to help them, our small business owners, our homeless, our at-risk children and families. Unlike with a hurricane, there will be no folks on the mainland sending cash and boxes of supplies. We will have to do this on our own. And, we can.
Though it feels like we’re on hurricane watch, there are some oddly disjointed differences — and important ones to keep top of mind as we wend our ways through the self-distancing and isolation of COVID-19. Think about these:
- We have electric, water and internet/phone/television. That means air conditioning and streaming Netflix. Energy to power the ventilators. It means hot showers and FaceTime. None of those are part of a hurricane.
- Basic supplies stores are open and so far the supply chain from the mainland continues apace. That means, though perhaps limited, the stuff we need — food, laundry detergent, cat litter, a plunger for the toilet — will be where it needs to be. We won’t stand in the Sears’ parking lot waiting for MREs and ice. I will temper that optimism a bit by adding — as long as the workforce in the fields, the manufacturing plants, the truck drivers, baggers, clerks and stockers stay well.
- Construction on the Cow Key Bridge is under way as scheduled. The construction across the street keeps hammering. The electrician showed up this morning. Those kinds of things don’t happen in hurricane time. Again, as long as these folks stay healthy and the supply chain doesn’t fall apart, we are much better off than in the weeks after Irma blew through.
- Feel free to wander the beach at Smathers or Fort Zach. They’re open. Just don’t bring nine friends and expect to party-hearty. Do bring gloves, a sticker-picker and a trash bag. Pick up the yuck stuff.
- Businesses — other than those in the dining-and-beverage-entertainment world — are open. Patronize them. Be nice to the folks who’re working; they’ve got bills to pay, kids to feed and home school; they don’t need an entitled attitude (now or any time, for that matter.)
It does feel weird to do “regular” things when so much else is out of kilter.
Here’s what we’re doing in the Cat 5 household through at least the end of April: Ranger Ed and I are making a list of chores that we always say we’ll do when we have more time. We have more time. A month of so of it. We’ll do the outside cleanup, including the semi-annual mold and mildew removal. Three days of playing with the power washer and arguing over whose turn it is. We’ll pull it around through the neighborhood to see who else needs a power wash. We’ll finally pull out the walls of bookshelves, clean behind them, toss away junk and repaint them.
I work from home with the Cat 5s, so I’m already pretty isolated. I am insisting that clients use video-conferencing or postpone in-person meetings. I’m keeping Key West Island News’ Facebook Page updated. Ranger Ed does his regular shifts at Fort Zach, unless the state closes the beach. Right now, the park is open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. He’s no longer doing his fort history tours; they were canceled. I’ve postponed the April house guest, but still have our family visit scheduled for Memorial Day. We can wait a while on that decision.
We, like most folks in Key West, have no storage space, so supplies are limited to a couple weeks. We’re hoping the grocery stores can sustain a supply chain for the basic stuff. We’d already started our annual build-out of hurricane supplies, so we have those, too. But, we need non-locals to go home so they’re not sucking away our supplies for coronavirus isolation — and for hurricane season, which begins June 1.
We’re writing checks to local organizations that provide direct assistance to the homeless, the at-risk children and families and the hospitality industry staffers. We’re gearing up to take care of friends and neighbors who might not be able to do for themselves. We’ve told the Key West SPCA we’re ready to take in more foster kittens if they need to clear the shelter, as they do in hurricanes. We’re tipping large if we are out-and-about, though those public-spaces happy hours have come to an end. If we were planning to attend a local fundraiser and it’s been canceled, we’re sending a comparable check to what we would have spent on some silent auction item. We are doing things with a handful of close friends in our home or theirs. For now.
How about joining me in all that — in your own home and neighborhood? Stay well, my friends.